Eastern Iowa native Ashton Kutcher is the latest recipient of a “Pillar of Character” Award named in honor of former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray.
“Thank you for having me home,” Kutcher said as he took the stage at Saturday’s ceremony in West Des Moines.
The actor who has starred in “That ’70s Show” and the current Netflix series “The Ranch” relied on some of the biochemistry he studied at the University of Iowa to explain the difference between personality and character.
“Personality is kind of the you that you show in the light,” Kutcher said. “…But your character is the you in the light and it’s the you in the darkest moment of your life. It’s just you. It’s like your DNA.”
The Robert D. Ray “Exemplar Award” is presented by the Drake University-based “Character Counts” organization to Iowans who “consistently demonstrate good character as a visible role model.”
Kutcher thanked his wife, his parents, his scoutmaster, his teachers and the neighbors from his childhood for their influence on his character.
“I’m the lucky one, but then I also had the great fortune to fail again and again and again,” Kutcher said. “I had the great fortune of going to jail when I was 18 and getting a deferred judgment, because I knew I never wanted to go back.”
Kutcher also talked about how his twin brother, Michael, has influenced his life.
“My brother was born with cerebral palsy and he taught me that loving people isn’t a choice and that people aren’t actually all created equal,” Kutcher said. “…We’re all created incredibly inequal to one another in our capabilities and what we can do and how we think and what we see, but we all have the equal capacity to love one another…He also taught me that he had gifts that I didn’t have…and that every time I felt sorry for him in life, I made him less.”
Kutcher, who is now 39 and the father of two young children, told his parents that with the experience of being a parent, he finally realized how much his own parents loved him.
“And so actually I didn’t come here, ultimately, to receive this award for myself,” Kutcher said. “I came here to receive it for all of you.”
Iowa’s current governor, Terry Branstad, handed Kutcher’s wife, Mila Kunis, a certificate that makes her an “honorary” Iowan. Other recipients of the Robert D. Ray “Pillar of Character Award” include Norman Borlaug, Hayden Fry, Dan Gable, Fred Hoiberg and Shawn Johnson.
Kutcher has become known as an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist in addition to his work as an actor. He recently testified against human trafficking during a congressional hearing. Kutcher and his ex-wife, Demi Moore, co-founded a non-profit called “Thorn” that fights “the sexual exploitation of children.”
(Additional reporting and photography by KQWC’s Pat Powers)